December 30, 2014

Upcoming: Improving Your Crew's Day


The improved interface addressing some of our larger issues

Greetings Star Commanders!

Hope you all have had a wonderful Holiday season and that you are ready for the New Year.

We have been back at work this week after a very successful Alpha 1 launch. We are very excited to have our kickstarters and fans playing the game and are looking forward to updating and improving the experience - which is exactly what we are talking about today. If you haven't gotten into the alpha you can right now at www.starcommandgalaxies.com!

The focus for our next update, which comes out in January, is crew interaction. Right now a lot of features in our game are pretty much done but not quite. For example:

  • Power is in but not connected to the GUI and some objects.
  • Food and Energy are draining but not really causing you harm
  • Using objects works but is very clunky
  • Teleporting exists but is finicky
  • Tooltips tell you a bit but not enough
  • It's not entirely clear what it is that you're supposed to do!
All of these items and more are on our list of things to do.

But the primary focus is on fixing and improving how you interact with your crew, how they give you feedback and how they interact with the world.

Desires, for example, should be a strong guiding force for what you are "supposed to do." If your crew member is hungry, tired, wants more light or wants to explore a planet this should be clear to you, the player.

A crew member wants more light. When you don't make it happen, he gets mad.

Our central gameplay cycle revolves around keeping your crew healthy and happy. One of the primary complaints in Star Command mobile was the fact that your crew and ship were always ready for battle. You got into a skirmish then proceeded to healed your crew, repair your ship and then head for the next battle. 

In Galaxies the ship battles, visits to alien planets, diplomacy and trade all throw off the energy, hunger and desires of your crew. For example: visiting a Trilax ship will introduce new desires for your crew like Trilax art. Now, as Captain, it is up to you to decide who is ready to go on Away Team missions, who is the right person and what the consequences of that will be. You have to weigh that with who is tired, hungry, injured or afraid of alien worlds.

Focusing on your crew's mood/stress level will be very important. We will be introducing those elements in the next update so that it's much more clear what you have to do with the hours of the day in your crew's lives.

We will also introduce comfort objects - things that help your crew relax and get into a good mood. Plants, paintings, TV's will help your crew get some R&R after a costly battle or exploring the harsh environment of a lava planet.

More to come as we get closer and closer to release of Alpha 2. Tell us what you think and if you have any questions!

Cheers,
Jordan@Warballoon

December 21, 2014

What Makes a Great Tutorial

Greetings Star Commanders!

Star Command Galaxies Alpha 1 is out! You should check out our brand new website and join in if you haven't already.

One of the biggest questions we have received so far about the alpha is "What Do I Do?" It's almost like we forgot the tutorial. To be clear, we did not. So we want to talk about great tutorials and our approach to teaching the mechanics and strategies of Star Command Galaxies.


The Original Tutorial
Let's start by talking about one of the greatest game tutorials: Super Mario Brothers for the NES. This is been covered many times by many people and probably much better than us, but we will rehash some of the principal concepts.

Basically, the very first area in Mario teaches you all the mechanics of the game. It was designed to teach a new player that getting mushrooms was good, blocks could be hit, and jumping on gumbas wouldn't hurt you, by making these actions almost impossible to avoid. It's elegant, it's simple and most importantly it uses no text.

Super Mario Brothers designed by today's standards

Mario isn't the only game to have an awesome non-tutorial tutorial. We look at Sim City 4 quite often.

Sim City 4
Sim City 4 never told you "You have to build a power plant." You would get that message by zoning a neighborhood and watching it not grow. Eventually you would get a "No Power" icon. The same was true of water, garbage, employment and other game concepts. Yes, there were advisors to help you along the way, but primarily the game showed you that there were certain things that needed to be done before you could continue on. The system, by its nature, enabled you to explore and try new things through experimentation.


The Sims thinking thoughts
The Sims is also a big inspiration for us. Again, the game never says "This Guy Needs To Sleep" - it shows you icons, body language and other hints of what you need to do to keep your character alive and happy - how succeed at the game. This means that ANYONE can pick up the game - kids that can't read yet, people that don't speak english or even new gamers who aren't familiar with common gaming tutorials. It's elegant, it's simple and it's universal.

That is one tired crew
In Galaxies we have similar goals. At this point its very early and, frankly, not working at all but the overall goal is to let the game tell you how to play itself. Early you can't travel because you have no engine. You may build objects but they have no power. There is a sequence and we don't have to tell you "Build an Engine First" - it enables exploration and creative thinking. There is no "right" way to play the game, just some minimum requirements for you to continue on.

We want anyone to be able to pick up Galaxies. I personally have a 4 year old son and one of the more frustrating things I have experienced is his inability to play Star Command on mobile. It wasn't for a lack of trying. The game simply had too many unintuitive concepts that had to be explained through text - something he couldn't read. He didn't know why he had to assign crew, what the enemies were trying to do or what his goals were. All of these elements were delivered through text in hails and popups - not very elegant.

That's not to say we won't have any text. It's still very important to world building and finding out more information on a particular object or character. But with Galaxies it doesn't start with "read this to figure out what your supposed to do" - instead it is "play this and if you want to learn more you can."

Right now this is not working - we will freely concede that. But we won't bandaid it with a bunch of popups that would work but not really fix the core problem. Instead we will diagnose why players aren't understanding certain concepts and help the game explain those better. 

A great example is refrigerators. Right now it simply isn't intuitive to go pick up food pellets, put them in the fridge and then go the kitchen to eat. Telling you to do this wouldn't fix to core problem.

So please bear with us while we try to make the game intuitive instead of putting in temporary or just bad fixes.

Tell us what you find to be unintuitive or what you would improve on that's already in game. Or point us to great tutorials you have used in the past. We read every comment, forum post, tweet and facebook post you send - so join in the conversation!

Next: Food, Energy, Social, Stress!

Cheers,
Jordan@Warballoon 

December 4, 2014

The Mobile Marketplace Has An Integrity Problem

We just received an e-mail that we wanted to share and discuss with our community. This is the tail end of it:

I offer many services concerning your app, if you are interested feel free to contact me. 
1. App Store Ratings & Reviews :Ratings/Reviews Price 
50 ratings and 10 reviews - 99 USD 
75 ratings and 15 reviews - 149 USD 
100 ratings and 25 reviews - 199 USD 
125 ratings and 30 reviews - 249 USD 
150 ratings and 35 reviews - 299 USD 

The premise is paying some fixed amount to receive reviews and ratings for your mobile title - and receive these types of offers almost daily. We have never used these services and we never will. But it does speak to a larger problem: integrity.

The ability to essentially purchase buzz for your game is nothing new, but on the mobile marketplace your rating and reviews are absolutely critical to success. And, to make a baseball analogy, paid reviews are the equivalent of steroids. It's not cheating because it's not illegal but it makes everything you see in the store suspect.

For mobile it has become increasingly a strange world that has nothing to do with "games" as we would classify them. Products built from the ground up to entertain and challenge players. This is just no longer the case. Larger companies build games from the ground up to be money producing machines not based on the merits of the gameplay but on the model of the challenge. IAP aren't inherently bad (there are many great examples of freemium games) but the culture on mobile is always suspect. There is no integrity.

Popularity can be purchased. Reviews and ratings can be fixed. Games sell one model then quickly pull the rug out to reveal much less genuine intentions. None of this is new - but it is becoming increasingly discouraging.

That is not to say this is limited to mobile. This is something that the game culture as a whole is wrestling with as well. GamerGate is all about the integrity of the reviews we are given. Can we trust the numerous sites, blogs and youtubers to give us honest evaluations of our favorite hobby?

One of the things that makes this complex is the rise of indie games. The front page of Steam at any given moment is more than 50% indie titles - which is great. But it also makes it extremely difficult to figure out what is worth the investment. The most interesting element about the state of gaming is that most players don't even play the games they purchase. It's not longer about "can I get it?" - it's about your most valuable asset: time.

And this is why integrity is so important. There are hundreds of titles released and we all only have so much time. Gamers want those amazing experiences: building your first hole in the ground to escape the night in Minecraft; using a uber-medic combo to push your team and the cart to a victory in Team Fortress; getting the shit scared out of you for the first time in Amnesia. Our time is valuable and we want to pour it into the titles that give us the most return on our time investment.

The mobile market place has a serious problem with this right now and the business model isn't helping. The most heartbreaking thing about the whole environment is that could have been the next great mobile platform. Better than the 3DS, more adopted than the PSP and more accessible to indie developers than any other system before. Instead we have a system where discoverability is extremely difficult, reviews are always suspect and a games place on the top 10 chart can simply be purchased instead of earned. That is to say nothing of the copycat of mechanics that, frankly, were well established and refined in the late 90's.

Don't mistake this as us ejecting from mobile development - nothing could be further from the truth. But as gamers and developers we have concerns. We love the potential of the platform and don't really have answers to some of these larger problems. Maybe with time the market will mature and begin to self-regulate itself - who knows.

If there is one silver lining it's the community itself: gamers overall tend to be extremely reasonable, passionate people that really just enjoy having fun. It's rarely about ego, social standing or any other existential facet that can plague other hobbies. We have utter faith that the community will find a way to make things "right" and bring the integrity of gaming back.

That's all. End of rant.

Cheers,
Jordan@Warballoon